Carlos Carvalhal would like you to know a few things. Like why things went south at Swansea, why Sheffield Wednesday didn’t get promoted and why he was the manager to give Daniel James his debut…
Carlos Carvalhal is looking for a new job.
Nothing especially unusual in that, except that he already has a new job. In May the former Swansea and Sheffield Wednesday manager took over as Rio Ave’s head coach back home in Portugal, and even though he has only taken charge of two games so far, he already has his eyes on next season.
And more specifically, next season back in England. “I am very happy with my my team,” Carvalhal tells the Totally Football Show. “We started playing good football, attacking football. The fans are enthusiastic so we can do a good season in Portugal.” And here comes the ‘but’. “I hope that next season we can go back to England again because that is what really I wish.”
Carvalhal has signed his customary one-year contract with Rio Ave, but doesn’t appear to be planning a future in Portugal beyond that. “You have the best country in football of the world. Absolutely. Absolutely sure.
“In Portugal it is very hard to be a manager. Because the clubs fire the managers very easily. Turkey [where Carvalhal managed Besiktas] is very, very, very hard for the managers. Vicente Del Bosque was there five months. I think Bernd Schuster was like seven or eight months. A lot of big managers don’t complete one season. Greece is worse than Turkey. So when you work in these kind of countries and you come to England, it’s like you’re in paradise.”
No wonder he wants to come back. Because of how things ended at Swansea, in ultimately a fairly limp relegation, it’s easy to forget what Carvalhal did before. He took Sheffield Wednesday to the brink of promotion twice, admittedly with an expensively-assembled squad, but was 90 minutes away from the Premier League in his first season and came fourth the next year, the club’s highest finish since 2000 when they were last in the top flight.
By the time he left midway through the third season, his stock had fallen, but he believes that was at least in part down to raised expectations after the first two campaigns. “Everybody expected that we would get to the first positions, to automatic promotion,” he says. “Not just that, but the surprise effects [on opposition teams] disappear. We were not playing as underdogs – we were playing like favourites. And opponents start playing deeper against us, so it was harder to open the teams and to play the same quality football that we did in the first in the first season.”
When you work in these kind of countries and you come to England, it's like you're in paradise.
At this point, he asks permission to clarify something. “I like Sheffield Wednesday. I’m an Owl in this moment. When I arrived at Swansea, I mentioned that they had contact with me in the past, and the people said that I was talking with them [while still at Wednesday] and was preparing to go. It is a complete lie.
“I just want to inform all the Sheffield Wednesday fans that after the first season I was a free manager, because I sign all the time for just one season. I had invitations to go to the Championship to good clubs, and one invitation to go to the Premier League. But I preferred to stay in Sheffield, and I said to the chairman I will only leave the club when you decide, it’s not about my decision.
“So I absolutely had conversations with the other clubs because I was a free manager, but I prefer to stay [at Wednesday]. Thank you for giving me opportunity to clarify this.”
When he eventually did go to Swansea, just after Christmas 2017, things didn’t go to plan. Well, actually, a slight amendment: initially they went to plan, as the side Carvalhal found at the bottom of the table only lost two of his first 15 games in charge, but then as winter turned to spring things started to go south, they managed just three points from their last nine games and slumped into the Championship.
Still, Carvalhal believes that if he had been able to significantly add to his squad, things might have gone differently. “Nobody expected that Swansea would stay in the Premier League,” he says. “When we start to talk with new players, good players to try to improve the team, the reality was that the players didn’t want to go to Swansea because the risk to be relegated was big.”
They only managed to recruit Andre Ayew and Andy King, but Carvalhal had some rather more ambitious targets. “I was thinking that really we need three or four players that that we wanted. [We tried to get] Nicolas Gaitan, Kevin Gameiro, Sime Vrsaljko, Andre Silva. All these players we contacted, but nobody came. It was the reality.”
Nobody expected that Swansea would stay in the Premier League.
One of the few positives to come from that season was Daniel James, and it’s a reminder of how quick his rise has been that Carvalhal gave him his senior debut in January 2018, when the winger scored in the FA Cup against Notts County, and now 18 months later he’s in the Manchester United first-team.
What did Carvalhal see in the 20-year-old that caught his eye? “Firstly he was very self-confident – that’s very important. Second, he is a very active enthusiastic player, all the time. He’s one of those players that is happy with the ball all the time. Even in small games [in training] he is very, very active. He scored goals and was very hard to mark.
“I believe he will score more goals at Manchester United, because he’s that type of winger that I like, that doesn’t just play on the side, to do crosses or do assists, but a winger that really attacks.”
And with that, Carvalhal goes to prepare his Rio Ave players for their next game. Of course, by the sounds of things, he won’t be doing that for much longer. If all goes to his plan, you’ll be seeing Carlos Carvalhal again at a club near you, sooner than you think.
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